Private equity ownership has brought a sweeping menu of change to the executive offices at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s.
Nick Vojnovic, a longtime and well-known leader of the restaurant chain, left on June 18, in a departure that Vojnovic said was amicable.
Christopher Elliott, who was named CEO of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s franchisor Family Sports Concepts Inc. on March 15, has brought in his own team, including two executives who previously worked with Elliot at Cinnabon Inc. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, now owned by private equity firm Levine Leichtman Capital Partners, is concentrating on Florida and other core markets. Elliot said there is room for as many as 100 more of the family sports pubs in Florida alone, creating opportunities for new owner-operators.
“What we’re seeing at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s is the result of people coming in with new money and a new focus on the company,” said Ron Ruggless, regional editor for Nation’s Restaurant News.
Tight credit markets have dampened private equity enthusiasm for restaurants, although there has been a growth in deals since the first of the year, Ruggless said.
Levine Leichtman, a Los Angeles firm that recapitalized Beef ‘O’ Brady’s in July 2007, converted its debt to equity and took control of the company in March, when Elliott was brought in as CEO. Elliott replaced Chuck Winship, who joined Beef ‘O’ Brady’s in 1998.
Levine Leichtman has invested $24.5 million in Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, according to its website.
Vojnovic, at one time the third-largest shareholder of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, said he no longer has any equity in the company. He stayed on for a transition period, but wanted to take the opportunity to go back to school. “They were great, but I was ready to move on,” said Vojnovic, who will be attending the University of South Florida College of Business pursuing a master’s degree.
Elliott hired former Cinnabon co-worker James Walker as chief development officer, replacing Vojnovic, who held the title of president. Walker was previously chief development officer for Baja Fresh Mexican Grill and La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill in Cypress, Calif.
In late June, Joe Uhl joined Beef ‘O’ Brady’s as chief operating officer. Uhl was a Cinnabon franchisee when Elliott was president of Cinnabon, an Atlanta-based firm with 700 franchised bakeries.
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s current chief operating officer, Scott Taylor, will move into the role of chief concept officer, concentrating on menu development and training, while Uhl will focus on in-store execution, the relationship with franchisees and back-of-the-house operations, Elliott said.
For the short term, Elliott plans to focus on Florida and the southeast United States, where Beef ‘O’ Brady’s has the most brand presence, and purchasing and advertising synergies. “We have good value positioning in the market and we’ll stay on that, given this economy,” he said.
Elliott said sales in the first half of 2010 have been flat, but he expects an increase around the fourth quarter. He would not disclose a current sales number, but Nation’s Restaurant News reported that Beef ‘O’ Brady’s had $217.9 million in sales in 2008, the most recent year available.
Elliott plans to stick with the owner-operator model, which he called a differentiator for Beef ‘O’ Brady’s. The company currently has about 240 locations in 23 states, down slightly from a peak of 278 restaurants nearly two-and-a-half years ago. There are 138 locations in Florida and “we think we could do another 100 locations,” Elliott said.
The company is considering reducing the number of menu items, while focusing on the quality of items retained. “Our wings are our benchmark and we thing everything on the menu should be at the same quality as the wings,” he said.
“The essence of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s will not change, but we’re evolving on the menu side, and the look and feel of our concept to stay current with the times,” Elliott said. “But we’re also very attached to our heritage.”
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